Make Anti-Racism Part of Your Aesthetic

As someone with a small social circle & relatively limited resources, I will never discount the importance of online activism, so long as it actually yields results. However, there is a very real reason why “keyboard activists” have a bad reputation, especially when the critique comes from BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and other people of color).

I’ve witnessed countless white activists (myself included) talk about how they practice anti-racism in certain spaces, but “darn, this post doesn’t fit my page’s aesthetic, so I won’t share it.” And I have to wonder what that says about our priorities & how we spend our labor.

For the longest time, I rationalized my behavior by saying, “I need a space where I can just focus on me & not politics”, but this kind of statement itself is a show of priviledge. It says that I have the leisure of compartmentalizing the “radical” aspects of my life. It says the I feel I’m entitled to have spaces where I don’t acknowledge the pain inflicted on more marginalized communities.

And while it may be true that I’m not obligated to emotionally exhaust myself with anti-racist activism, I have to ask why I didn’t identify anti-racist work as part that “focusing on myself”. Not to mention, social media is an inherently public thing, so trying to claim it as part of my private self-care was disingenuous.

We may be led to believe that there is little to do in online activism past sharing news articles or crowdfunding links & signing petitions, but that is absolutely not true. On a daily basis, we are bombarded with normative media which slyly spoon-feeds us the normalization of white supremacy. Our world needs more creative people making content that responds to that agenda with a loud & responding, “NO.” We have the power to make propaganda that sends a worthwhile message, rather than one of hate.

I want to challenge all of us who spend time splicing mood boards, handwriting poignant quotes, drawing for pleasure, or sharing any other form of original art to think about how we can direct our creative energy towards anti-racist projects. Nearly every opportunity is a chance to spread a powerful message.

If you feel up to the challenge, here’s a few quick reminders:

  1. Don’t commit intellectual theft from BIPOC. You may feel incredibly inspired by something you’ve read or heard a BIPOC say recently. And while it may be tempting to parrot their words to your entire social circle, it’s more important to take time to give proper credit. Instead of approaching people under the premise of, “here’s this cool idea I’ve been thinking about,” say, “I’ve been reading/listening to [insert name of BIPOC activist here] recently. I recommend you check out their work as well.” (This seems like a good time to recommend Leesa Renee Hall, Rachel Cargle, Layla F. Saad, and Sassy Latte as excellent writers & speakers on anti-racist issues. I follow them all on Instagram & respectfully engaging with their work has been a soul-expanding process.)
  2. Take care of yourself. No one is asking you to stop creating the kind of art that you love, just that you also make time for your sociopolitical responsibilities too. But if you don’t take time for self-care & self-nurturing, you’re going to burn yourself out. Find a balance where you can still have fun & chase your passions, but also be able to get down to the hard & uncomfortable work when you need to.
  3. Stay humble. At times, the work that you thought was so helpful & perfect might be criticized by the BIPOC you meant to be advocating for. Seeing as you don’t yourself belong to their demographic & therefore share their lived experiences, it’s only natural that you will mess up or misstep. Apologize (appropriately) & honor that apology. Educate yourself (don’t ask the BIPOC to do it for you, unless they’re offering; at which point, compensate them). Do better next time. Similarly, you might be thanked or praised for any work you did well on. Don’t let it go to your head; you are nobody’s savior.

I hope this writing was inspiring and/or motivating for you! Get creative, have fun, change the world!

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